Alvar Aalto - Finland
National Pensions Institute
Nordenskiöldinkatu 12, Helsinki
1948 - 1956

The architectural competiton to design an office complex for the National Pensions Institute in Helsinki was won by Aino and Alvar Aalto in 1948. The original design was scrapped in 1952, when an alternative site with a triangular shape was selected. As a consequence of this smaller parcel, none of the commercial and cultural facilities, which were included in the original competition proposal, could be fitted. In the end only the offices and additional spaces were realized and construction was finished in 1956. There was a requirement for a total of 800 workplaces within this administrative building. One of the key-ideas of the design was to accomodate this large amount of employees in an environment avoiding the opressive feeling known from the box-like office buildings located in rather crampy city districts. This large construction, comprising a total volume of 110'000 cubic meters, is structured in different wings and develops around a garden court which is shielded from traffic noise. All wings are connected to each other, partially by subterranean constructions, so that the various volumes create an organic entity. The complex of an irregular U-shape is stepped down towards the nearby park and surrounds the mentioned courtyard, which is raised above street level. The customer service hall, which is the only space accessible for the general public, is the centrepiece of the interior. Extending over a height of three floors, it is lit from above by three prism-shaped lantern skylights. Originally this room contained 28 unroofed interview cubicles. Another space of special interest is the tiny library, which features specialist insurance literature, and which is considered to be a miniature version of Aalto's famous Viipuri library. On the exterior are used mainly red brick, copper and black granite. Large parts of the building are characterised by horizontal strip windows. Closed areas of copper sheet emphasize the vertical, contrasting with the horizontal appearance of the whole complex. Impressive are the materials and workmanship of high quality used in the whole building, but especially for the management floor and the conference room. Every detail within this large complex is carefully studied.
In this building were used several innovative building methods, which where then considered to be experimental. For example were evaluated sound-absorbing walls for the protection of the working environment as well as radiation heating with visible installations. Alvar Aalto himself said about this building: 'Although the building is equipped with mechanical ventilation connected with the heating system, the architect wished to provide every room with the biological advantages of natural airing and a window that can be opened.'